Umzimkulu River Fly Fishing
30 min from Underberg
The mighty Umzimkulu is KwaZulu-Natal’s largest and probably longest river with a habitat suitable for its rainbow trout population. It winds its way through the picturesque pastoral setting of the southern Drakensberg area, flowing past the village of Underberg.
The headwaters rise in the mountains above the Drakensberg Gardens Resort. Here, it is a slip of a stream that has never been particularly productive for fly-fishing. The higher sections are also very susceptible to low water levels during the drier periods.
Lower down, once it has passes Lake Navarone, light-line fishing can be rewarding, but the trout are mainly small (20 to 25 centimetres).
Almost all of the Umzimkulu runs through private property, most of it agricultural in nature. However, there are a number of deep gorges that are quite remote by nature of the topography for those who prefer to get away from the influences of human settlement.
Being privately owned, access to almost the entire length of the river is restricted and permission to fish needs to be obtained from the respective riparian owners. However, certain stretches are best known for fly fishing. These are up- and downstream of the village of Underberg.
Some of these beats come with well-known names such as “Thrombosis Gorge” and “Judges Walk”. They are controlled by the Underberg Himeville Trout Fishing Club (UHTFC), which has obtained the fishing rights from the riparian owners. Club representatives will be able to give guidance and advice on how to access some of the waters outside of their control. They have a club office in Underberg, where fly-fishers can book waters – including some good still waters. There are also a number of B&Bs and accommodation establishments along the river that will allow guests to fish along the river flowing through their property.
The higher reaches are typically freestone in character, with some runs between high grassy banks, interspersed with long stretches of shallow riffles. The water here remains reasonably clean after rain compared with the lower reaches. These can be severely flooded and discoloured for long periods after rain - attributable mainly to run-off from adjacent cultivated lands.
However, when conditions are favourable, the Umzimkulu fishes well and good sport can be had with its population of rainbows, with an average size of 25 to 35 centimetres. It is not uncommon for trout of 1,3 kilograms and even more to surprise the fly-fisher from time to time. Nymphing under a strike indicator will more than likely be the most productive method, unless there are obvious signs of the trout feeding on emerging or terrestrial insects. In that case, a suitable fly fished on the surface or in the surface film will be the better choice.
The middle and lower reaches of the river are mostly long slow runs with muddy bottoms or areas of bedrock and the occasional rocky rapid and riffle water. The banks are often high, covered in grasses, with some woody vegetation. With a lack of good holding structure, the bank undercuts generally provide the best shelter for the trout and it is here that fly-fishers should concentrate their efforts, using an upstream dead-drifting technique. Other than the shallower upper reaches, wading is not always possible, making it necessary for a fair amount of fishing to be done from the banks.
Inquires can be submitted by e-mail to [email protected], or for further information telephone 082 636 3985. Bookings for fishing venues can be made at the office or by calling 082 636 3985.
Umzimkulu Fly Fishing, Drakensberg Gardens Resort
Umzimkulu Fly Fishing, Lake Navarone
Umzimkulu Fly Fishing, Underberg
The Drakensberg mountain range begins its rise in the Eastern Cape, running along the length of KwaZulu-Natal’s western border. It also extends in fits and starts into Mpumalanga and covers a vast area stretching into the mountain kingdom of Lesotho.
It is generally agreed that the ‘Dragon mountains’ got their name from their ragged, irregular silhouette that looks like a dragon’s back from a distance. It was so-named by Dutch settlers. Another, albeit less popular, explanation is that early settlers were told by the locals that dragons lived in the mountains. This theory was given a bit more credence when numerous dinosaur footprints were discovered in the Eastern Free State.
The Zulu tribe has given the mountains its own, equally descriptive name – Ukhahlamba, or ‘the barrier of spears’. Whatever the language and whatever the explanation, there is no argument that the Drakensberg mountains are evocative and mysterious. It is a wild and beautiful area that can change from sunny to snowy in mere moments.
In 2001 a park was established that encompasses a huge tract of the mountains. Known as the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area, it covers 13 000km² of Lesotho and KwaZulu-Natal. It includes the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park, a World Heritage Site that by itself covers some 2 400km² and is 150km long.
The Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park is a place of immense beauty and enormous spaces. It is one of the few true remaining wildernesses where hikers can walk for days without encountering other people.
It is no surprise, then, that this place is as dangerous as it is beautiful, and one must be well-prepared if tackling it on foot.
In the very north of the park is Royal Natal National Park. It is one of the jewels in the crown of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the proud guardian of the world famous ‘Amphitheatre’. This can be easily viewed from the road to the main camp of the park. A short walk along the river gives amazing photographic opportunities. The attractions of this park are many, from pleasant walks to fly-fishing and swimming in clear mountain streams. It is also home to the 850m-high Tugela Falls, the highest waterfall in Africa and the second highest in the world.
Other notable parks within the greater Drakensberg Park are Giant’s Castle, Kamberg and Loteni Nature Reserves. Each has its own attractions, capable of keeping the tourist busy for days on end.
The Drakensberg was declared a World Heritage Site for a number of reasons. It is an area of incredible natural diversity with over 2 100 plant species, more than 200 of which are endemic to the area. It is also home to over 60 species of mammal, including the threatened oribi and herds of eland and black wildebeest. It has nearly 50 species of reptile and more than 300 bird species. The naturalist will definitely find a visit to the Drakensberg incredibly rewarding.
No less interesting is the human history of the area. A prime drawcard is the San rock art. Excellent examples can be seen in Giant’s Castle. There is also a recreation of how these people prospered in the mountains until they were ruthlessly hunted out of existence by both black and white settlers.
Look out for
The Bushmen paintings are a unique art form that shrouded in mystery and deserving of at least an afternoon’s attention. The fact that they are almost always to be found in remote, beautiful caves adds to their allure. And the walk there adds to the attraction.
Hiking is one of the most popular pastimes in the Drakensberg. Depending on fitness and time, hikers can choose from short but beautiful walks to multi-day hikes. On the latter one needs to be entirely self-sufficient and equipped for inclement weather - including snow - no matter what time of the year it is.
The Giants Cup Hiking Trail is the premier ‘Berg hike, totalling almost 60km and usually taking five days to complete. It runs from Sani Pass to Busman’s Nek in the south.
The Amphitheatre in the Royal Natal National Park is one of the first things that should be put on the ‘To Do’ list. You haven’t really been to the Drakensberg until you’ve viewed it from below - and then again from the top. Here you will encounter one of the most breathtaking views in South Africa.
Fly-fishing is another excellent reason to visit the Drakensberg. KZN-Ezemvelo has a collection of very good trout waters in their reserves. Other dams and rivers are privately owned, but many are accessible to fisherman for a day fee.
The Lammergeier Hide at Giant’s Castle is an amazing place from which to get incredible sightings and photographs of birds. Highlights are the bearded vulture, Verreaux’s eagle, white-necked raven, lanner falcon and Cape vulture. Many smaller species can also be spotted. Booking is essential.
Sani Pass is one of South Africa’s great drives. In winter the pass is often closed due to ice and snow and can be a very hazardous drive. Remember that a passport is necessary to get onto the pass and a 4x4 vehicle is required by law.